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Comptroller, Governor on Same Page in Seeing Need for Gov’t Workforce Reforms

Top state auditor Justin Wilson says the state’s process for hiring and firing state employees is “fundamentally flawed.” Haslam says his plan to overhaul the system will get the state closer to working like a business.

The state’s top auditor is backing up Gov. Bill Haslam’s push to reform how Tennessee hires and fires some 34,500 state workers in a report calling the current system “fundamentally flawed.”

The 47-page “Special Report” from Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office says the state’s civil-service system is slow, lacks transparency and bases decisions more heavily on seniority instead of merit, which leads the public to “feel their worst fears are true.”

According to the report, “the system is either reflective of a general ineptitude in state government or the lack of transparency is intentional to ensure that only those with inside knowledge have the ability to ‘play the system’ and circumvent the processes that are purportedly designed to provide a fair and equitable system for hiring state employees.”

The report continues, “The dysfunction of the state’s hiring process is driven home to officials seeking new staff who discover on the back end of the process, after untold time and dollars have been spent, that the candidates, in spite of being rated favorably, in fact lack the essential skills to perform the job. The bureaucracy of the current system frustrates the intent of the laws seeking to promote fair employment practices.”

Haslam has been batting away criticism of his reform proposal, which he announced earlier this year as one of his top priorities. So far, the Tennessee State Employees Association has worked with the governor’s office to tweak the proposal, but walked away and then returned to the negotiation table.

Since then, lawmakers have raised several concerns about the overhaul, including downgrading the preferential treatment given to military veterans applying for jobs.

Halsam argues the changes are necessary to encourage government to perform more “like a business” and effectively address institutional inefficiencies in order to ultimately “provide the very best services we can at the lowest price.”

“When you live in a world without competitors, which is what government does…it is easy to not live by the rules of business,” the governor said after speaking to the Tennessee Hospitality Association Wednesday.

“Competition is what drives costs down in business, but you don’t have that factor in the government so sometimes it’s easy for costs to go the different direction because you’re not worried about the impact,” Haslam said.

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